When in the questura for a(nother) permesso di soggiorno today, the Italian friend who brought me there brought up a well-known Italian saying.
"Il gatto che si mangia la coda," he said -- the cat that eats its tail.
There couldn't have been a more appropriate place to teach me the phrase. I was telling him how I'd been told that I needed the assicurazione proving I'd paid into the health system to get my new permesso. But before, I'd needed to show a visa to get the assicurazione. And I'd been told that if I had a permesso, I didn't need a visa. So how was I supposed to get a new assicurazione?*
But the feeling of chasing one's tail is hardly unique to Italy. Below, three great examples of "il gatto che si mangia la coda" -- dispatches from France, the U.K., and the U.S. Any good ones I'm missing?
*Unless I misunderstood the whole thing. With systems this complicated, also entirely possible.
A friend of mine recently moved to Paris. To rent an apartment, she said, you need to have a bank account first. To open a bank account, you need to have an apartment contract and a visa. And for the visa, you need an apartment contract.
Also, even merely writing that confused the me out hell of. Meh?
This is a long one, so bear with me. (However, the time it will take you to read this is a fraction of the hours I spent pulling my hair out while alternating deep-breathing exercises and answering the same question about my mother's maiden name over and over on the phone).
My U.K. bank account was compromised in the spring. Someone had, somehow, figured out how to withdraw money from an ATM in Chicago -- where I have never been -- while I still had the card physically on me here in Rome. So it had to be shut down. Made sense to me. I was told I'd be issued a new card, sent right to my address. This would have been fine, except that they had my old -- British -- address on file.
"Just go online and change your address there," the NatWest fraud representative told me. Easy -- just what I'd expect making a change of address to be. I hung up and went to the log-in page. But I couldn't log in online, because they'd shut down my account -- and with it, any ability to access that now-defunct account, with its not-at-all defunct account number, online.
So I called again. "Okay, we can change your address for you, over the phone ma'am," the woman told me. What's your account number?"
"Is it what's on my old ATM card?" I asked.
"No," she said.
"Well, shoot. I don't know it off the top of my head. Where else can I find it?"
She considered. "Bank statements?"
"I don't receive physical bank statements," I said.
"Online?" she suggested.
"Yes, that's where I usually get it when I need it. But you've shut down my ability to log-in online," I said.
"Oh, right." A pause. Well, unless I knew my account number, she said, they couldn't change the information in my file online for me. For security reasons. (I struggled to keep from asking how, if their security was so tight, someone in Chicago had withdrawn money from an ATM without even the card in hand).
"Okay. Then what should I do?" I asked. A pause. "Send a letter in writing asking for an address change to the branch where you opened your account," she said.
I hung up, handwrote the letter, and sent it.
Three weeks later, nothing. I called again and explained the situation. The woman on the other end was sweet and helpful. I was thrilled.
"No problem!" she said cheerfully. "I'll just ask you a few security questions and we can change it right away. So sorry about that."
"Thank you so, so, so much," I started babbling. And then the line went dead.
Fear growing in the pit of my stomach, I called again. My new telephone companion pulled up my account information (using the same security questions that apparently weren't tough enough to let me change my address over the phone...hmm), looked at my file, and told me that, no, sorry, she couldn't change my address for me. For, yes, security reasons.
I was transferred somewhere else. That person then said that without me telling her my account number, she couldn't even pull my account information up.
"That's just not possible," I said. "The last person could!"
I went through a chain of four or five others. Hit on someone helpful. And just like clockwork, the line cut out.
If my neighbors heard a strangled scream coming from my apartment that day, that's why.
I called again. This time, the woman pulled up my account info, but told me, again, there was nothing she could do. "Unless you figure out your account number, you'll just have to fly back to the U.K. and go to the branch where you opened your account to change your address and receive your new card," she said calmly.
It had been 1.5 months, four hours on the phone, and 12 different operators trying to "help" me since that jerk used my card in Chicago. I almost forfeited my NatWest account, the money in it, and my sanity right there.
Thank goodness for one kind manager in the fraud department who made all the difference.
Sir, I love you. But your company's policy of not letting you log in online to see your account number and not letting you get your account number unless you're online, stinks. Il gatto che si mangia la coda.
I'll make this one brief.
I'd just moved to England. I needed to send money from my Bank of America account to my new (NatWest!) account. I was told by a BOA representative that to do this, I had to walk into my local BOA branch and be physically present to wire the money -- from myself, to myself. "I'm in England. I live here," I said for the third time. "Is there a BOA in England?" "No." "So how can I do this?" A pause. "Walk into your local BOA branch and..."
Il gatto che si mangia la coda.